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Please Listen, You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

This weekend offers the coincidental arrival of a new James Bond movie and a TV anthology on the Beatles. For nostalgic baby boomers wondering where have all the icons gone, it doesn’t get much better than 007 and the Fab Four.

One of the conceits of my baby boomer generation is that we all loved the Beatles. The truth is that many either disliked them altogether or were indifferent.

One of the conceits of our parents’ generation, however, is that we only liked the Beatles because it was faddish to do so. Parents saw footage of the moptops singing off key or screaming the lyrics over their guitars and wondered how anyone in their right mind could call that music. For a generation used to Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, the reaction was understandable.

Rats. How to convince them that there was power in the music and that, believe it or not, we didn’t just like them because they had long hair and were seen as anti-Establishment?

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For someone like me, who could get downright misty-eyed when thinking about the power of music, the generation gap was always frustrating. A lot of teen-agers in my time didn’t care if their parents liked their kids’ music or not--the kids felt proprietary about it.

Not me. I came belatedly (late ‘60s) to know in my bones that Beatles music was real and memorable--but rather than wanting it all to myself, I wanted my parents to share the feelings.

It was not to be. They could appreciate ballads like “Yesterday” and “Michelle” and get a kick out of “When I’m 64,” but there was no way they’d ever embrace “Strawberry Fields Forever” or “Nowhere Man.” To them, the Beatles were four guys with good management.

So it goes with art. In the same row at the symphony, someone will be in a state of transcendent rapture while the guy in the next seat is snoring to the beat of the percussion section.

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Having given up on my parents, I began musing at some point about my own children. I wondered whether I’d still be listening to Beatles music when I was 40 or 50. I wondered whether my kids would like the same stuff. I conjured up amusing images of fighting the kids for the stereo.

Now that I’m, indeed, 40 or 50, the answer to the first part is yes. I still listen to Beatles music. The second part will remain a mental game, in that I forgot to have kids with whom I could talk about the Beatles.

Last month, though, I got a glimpse of what it might have been like.

While visiting my friends the Kellys in Omaha, I stayed in their daughter’s room--she having vacated the scene this fall for St. Louis University. On one wall, she had a Beatles poster from their 1965-vintage days. She had another Beatles postcard on a bookshelf and beside the bed was a book of transcribed interviews with them.

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Now 18, Bridget is the third of four children, who range from med school student to grade schooler, but she is the only serious Beatle fan among them. I phoned Bridget this week in St. Louis to find out how she picked up Beatlemania more than 10 years after their breakup.

“I was probably 4 years old when I first got interested in their music,” she said. “My parents had an old eight-track tape of the Beatles, and I had no idea who they were, I knew nothing about them, other than I really liked the music. I used to listen to that tape constantly--'Paperback Writer,’ ‘Hey, Jude,’ ‘Lady Madonna.’ I used to love those songs so much. I had this huge headset. It was probably bigger than my head at the time, and I would sing along.

“Then, about the beginning of high school (1991), I started getting really interested in the history of it. I was fascinated how these four distinct personalities came together. I started reading anything I could get my hands on. There was something specific, something different about the Beatles, compared to any other musical group.”

Bridget said she got caught up in how the tensions that came with being the Beatles came to conflict with their early image of the lovable moptops. “All this turmoil was going on, with the clashing egos and all the characters, and it was like a really good story.”

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She said her friends think the Beatles are OK, but virtually none share her fascination. “I think they do appreciate there’s something they don’t understand--they don’t just blow them off, they know there’s something there--but they just don’t completely understand it. I don’t either. I’m not sure what makes them so great.”

I can’t explain it, either, except to myself in words unspoken.

But after talking to Bridget, I know I envy her and her parents. If they want, the three of them can sit around some night and revel in Fab Four conversation, speaking the universal language of shared musical enjoyment.

As for me, maybe I shouldn’t give up. Maybe I could convince Mom, just once, to pop on the headsets and give “Rubber Soul” a good listen.

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Dana Parsons’ column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.


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